Spring is here and the ants have come out. Worker ants are foraging for food, looking after the colony's young, and defending their home for unwanted intruders. One nest in South America has had up to 700,000 members.
Ants are clean insects. Some worker ants are given the job of taking
the rubbish from the nest and putting it outside in a special
rubbish dump. Each colony of ants has its own smell. In this way,
intruders can be recognized.
Black Ants and Wood Ants have no sting, but they can squirt a spray
of formic acid. Some birds put ants in their feathers because the
ants squirt formic acid which gets rid of parasites.
The Slave-Maker Ant raids the nests of other ants and steals their
pupae. When these new ants hatch,they work as slaves within the
colony. Worker ants keep eggs and larvae in different groups
according to ages.
Ants undergo complete metamorphosis from egg, to larva, to pupa, to
adult. Each ant colony begins with, and centers around the queen,
whose sole purpose is to reproduce. Although the queen may copulate
with several males during her brief mating period, she never mates
again. She stores sperm in an internal pouch, where sperm remain
immobile until she opens a valve that allows them to enter her
reproductive tract to fertilize the eggs.
The queen ant lives a significantly longer life than her workers. A
queen of the species Lasius niger in Europe lived for 29 years in
captivity. Queen ants lay the eggs that grow into worker ants. A
leafcutter ant queen in South America lived for 14 years and bred
over 150 million worker ants in her lifetime.
The queen controls the sex of her offspring. Fertilized eggs produce
females, either wingless workers seldom capable of reproduction, or
reproductive virgin queens, which are produced only when there are
sufficient workers to allow for the expansion of the colony.
Unfertilized eggs develop into winged males who do no work, and
exist solely to fertilize a virgin queen. The queen produces myriads
of workers by secreting a chemical that retards wing growth and
ovary development in the female larvae.
After mating, queen ants and male ants lose their wings. The queen
scurries off in search of a site to start her new nest. If she
survives, she digs a nest, lays eggs, and single-handedly raises her
first brood that consists entirely of workers.